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Brooklyn Church Fires Being Investigated as Hate Crime, Police Say

Brooklyn Church Arson Suspect
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CROWN HEIGHTS — An arsonist started fires in Crown Heights and Brownsville churches during a three-day spree being investigated as a hate crime, police said.

A man caught on surveillance video set the first early-morning fire inside the doorway of Greater New Beginning Baptist Church at 303 E. 98th St. near Lenox Road at 2:45 a.m. Saturday, setting a newspaper alight inside its doorway, the NYPD said.

The suspect set a second fire less than 24 hours later, in a bathroom of Iglesia Christiana Church at 1504 Pitkin Ave. at Legion Street about 2:35 a.m. Sunday, causing minor damage.

And a third fire, with a lit newspaper, was started at the Church of St. Mark at 1417 Union St. near Brooklyn Avenue about 6:40 a.m. Monday, police said.

St. Mark's parish secretary Clothilda Sterling saw the Monday morning fire when she arrived just after 7 a.m.

“I saw the whole place in smoke and smelled the burning,” said Sterling, 66, who called 911 when she saw a newspaper and box of church candles on fire near a copy machine.

The church’s priest, Rev. Peter Bramble, put out the fire before the FDNY arrived, she said.

The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the fires "because of the proximity of the churches, the time of each incident and the nature of the crime," a spokeswoman wrote in a statement.

The FDNY did not immediately respond to an inquiry.

Sterling, a longtime worshipper at St. Mark's, said she was “happy to do something to save my church.”

Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to call Crime stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477).  The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime stoppers website at WWW.NYPDCRIMESTOPPERS.COM or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577. All calls are strictly confidential.